Herriott Sets Pace for Cavalier Runners
Aug. 27, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the third year in a row, the hottest part of the summer found Zach Herriott about 7,000 feet above sea level, in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Herriott was not there vacationing. He was one of a half-dozen distance runners, along with his University of Virginia teammate Thomas Madden, who rented a house in Flagstaff this summer. They were there to train.
The accommodations cost him about $1,000, said Herriott, who considers it a sound investment.
Part of the attraction of Flagstaff is the altitude, Herriott said, “but more than anything, it’s just more of a mindset. You have this mindset like, `I’m spending money, I’m setting aside my whole summer, just to go train.’ It’s like kind of turning a switch in your mind.”
A redshirt junior from Kansas City, Mo., Herriott is among the leaders of the UVa men’s cross country team, which placed fourth at the ACC meet and 21st at the NCAA championships in 2014. Herriott was the first Cavalier to cross the finish line at last year’s NCAA meet, finishing 81st overall.
Moreover, head men’s cross country coach Pete Watson expects sophomore Brent Demarest, who redshirted last season, to break out this fall, and the Cavaliers have added several talented runners, among them graduate student William Gray, a transfer from the University of Birmingham in England, and freshmen Alex Corbett and Matthew Novak.
“I think this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Watson, who’s heading into his fourth cross country season at Virginia.
“The difference is this year I’ve got depth. The first three years it was really tough, because I didn’t have depth. If something went wrong at 5 or 6, I was in big trouble. Now we’ve got 10 viable guys.”
Herriott was a student at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City when Watson started recruiting him. Watson was then at North Carolina, but he continued pursuing Herriott after moving to UVa in January 2012.
Back then, Herriott was aware of the University’s academic reputation but knew nothing about its running programs. He was intrigued enough by Watson’s pitch to schedule a visit to UVa, but Herriott never made it to Charlottesville. He canceled his visit after a trip to the University of Oklahoma.
“After my Oklahoma visit, I just knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Herriott said. “So it was kind of like I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time any more.”
In 2012, Herriott enrolled at Oklahoma, where he redshirted in cross country and outdoor track as a freshman. He was still happy with his choice, but then his coach left for Iowa State after the 2012-13 academic year.
“So then I had to kind of reconsider things,” Herriott said.
He also seriously considered Florida State before choosing UVa, where he experienced something akin to culture shock after enrolling in the summer of 2013.
“The first thing I noticed was it’s academically a lot more challenging here,” Herriott said. “And I noticed that from the first week of classes, just that students and teachers are a lot more invested. But in general, I have no regrets at all about the transfer. I’m much more balanced here, whereas at Oklahoma I was more 100-percent running. Here I’m a more balanced person.”
In 2013-14, Herriott competed for the Wahoos in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. In 2014-15, he ran cross country and outdoor track and redshirted during the indoor season. That left him with two seasons of eligibility in each sport.
An economics major, he’s on track to earn his bachelor’s degree next spring and hopes to return to UVa as a graduate student in 2016-17.
“I haven’t really pinpointed a specific program, but I would love to spend it here,” Herriott said. “I couldn’t really see myself competing anywhere else.”
In outdoor track, the 6-foot-3 Herriott finished fourth in the 10,000 meters at the ACC championships in May, and his best time in that event (29:08.17) ranks third all-time at UVa.
In cross country, he placed 18th at the NCAA Southeast Regional in 2013 and 11th at the regional last fall.
“He’s a straight 10k guy,” Watson said. “Not too quick, but he’s strong. Zach’s got like one speed, but he’s just tough.”
In men’s cross country, the ACC meet is an 8k. For NCAA regionals and the NCAA championships, however, the race is a 10k.
“I think the higher up in distance it goes, the better I get,” Herriott said. “Even between the 8k and 10k in cross country. I don’t know what it is, but that extra 2k is a lot, and people will fade quite a bit over that.”
In the ACC outdoor 10k in May, Herriott “just went to the front and kept grinding and getting rid of people and then settling back and trying to get rid of people,” Watson said. “He’s tough.”
His strategy in that race, Herriott said, was to “go out hard from the beginning and try and get as many people out of the race as we could early.”
Most runners, Herriott said, “like to sit around and wait and see how the race plays out. I can’t do that, because I know if I do that then people are going to fly past me at the end. I have to try to win the run from the beginning.”
Herriott’s value to the team, Watson said, cannot be overstated.
“I think for some of the other guys who maybe it comes a little bit easier to, they see how hard he works,” Watson said. “But the thing with Zach is, Zach gets along with every single group on the team: the quiet guys and the outgoing kids, he kind of flows between everybody. Everybody looks up to him, and he’s one of those guys who just kind of does everything right. He’s blossomed into a really good leader.”
Herriott said he knows that every runner is different, “but the one thing that I can give to every person is respect, because we’re all going through the same thing. So I think for me, if guys show up every day and do the work, then I start to respect them and then we just become friends like that.”
A top-10 finish at the NCAA meet is a realistic goal for the `Hoos this fall, Herriott believes. Like Watson, he cited the team’s improved depth.
“My first year here,” Herriott said, “it seemed like we were just trying to hold together seven runners just to get to the meets. But this year I think everybody knows they’ve got to be on their A-game if they want to make the travel squad.”
Watson said: “There’s going to be guys fighting for those seven spots. It’s going to be tough, which is what you need.”
Herriott noted, too, that the Cavaliers are no longer as inexperienced as they were in 2013 and ’14.
“We’re not a young team,” he said. “We do have a lot of young guys, but we’re heavy with people that have a lot of experience, and experience is huge in college running.”